We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Friday, July 6, 2012

Gung Ho for God

St. Theophan the Recluse
Theophan or Theophanes the Recluse (1815–1894) was a Russian Orthodox monk and bishop who is now considered a saint. His biography on a website dedicated to him (here) speaks of his goodness, meekness, and willing trust of others, qualities that he felt equipped him for a life of seclusion, study, and spiritual writing. He is thus especially known for his piety and his teachings on Christian spirituality.

That being said, there seems at times to be a quality to his spirituality that suggests a less meek and gentle side to him—or, at least, to his understanding of the Christian life.  One of his quotations in the Wikipedia article linked above, for example, states, "A Christian without zeal is a poor Christian."

Is it possible to be a truly spiritual person and zealous?  The word "zeal" implies a narrowness of mind, an almost obsessive fixation with an object, person, or cause.  It denotes ardor and an unwillingness to be deterred, which can morph into blind prejudice.  Zeal as a spiritual quality is very much not in keeping with the quintessential description of Christian spirituality found in Galatians 5:22-23.  Zeal is hardly peaceful, generous, kind, or patient.  When one thinks of Christian zeal, the Crusades come to mind, which ae not among our finer moments as a people of faith.

Wiktionary defines "zeal" (here) as, "The fervor or tireless devotion for a person, cause, or ideal and determination in its furtherance; diligent enthusiasm; powerful interest."  Although less objectionable than the "feel" of the term, there still seems to be elements of questionable spirituality.  Faith is not passionless, but faith's passion is less self-involved and fixated than seems to be the case with zeal even at its best.  Can one be a faithful follower of Christ and also a zealous one?  The answer is not certain but seems to be, "In theory, possibly,'Yes,' but in practice, more likely, 'No.'"